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After 29 months of drought in Catalonia and with reservoirs at a worrying 28% of their total capacity, the Catalan government has decreed a state of exception in the Ter-Llobregat system and the Fluvià Muga aquifer, with increased restrictions on municipalities. These two catchment areas include large portions of Barcelona province as well as that of Girona, and the new measures come into effect this Thursday, after cabinet approved them on Tuesday and the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) agreed on the entry into force of the Exception status. As explained by the Catalan minister for Climate Action, Teresa Jordà, when she announced the move, going from 'Alert' to 'Exception' level means - in relation to the map reproduced below - going from orange to red, since this is the fourth scenario out of a total of five that the anti-drought plan of the ACA includes. The maximum level - not included on this map - is 'Emergency', which includes much stricter measures such as a maximum allocation of 200 litres of water per person per day (under Exception level, the maximum is 230 litres per day). And the 200 litres can be further reduced to 160 should Emergency phase III be enacted.

Below, the municipalities in the Catalan Water Agency area affected by the drought: red for 'Exception', orange for 'Alert'. NOTE: The unshaded western areas of Catalonia are administered by the CHE, or Ebro Hydraulic Conferderation. 

Although the new Exception status does not affect the whole of Catalonia, it does have an impact on the vast majority of Catalans, almost 6 million, since it comes into effect in the most populated areas of the country. In total it impacts 224 municipalities out of a total of 942 and 15 counties out of 41, but among the affected populations is the metropolitan area of Barcelona, where the majority of the Catatan population is concentrated. Meanwhile, out of 18 internal catchment basins into which the territory is divided, just 2 units will remain in a Normal situation, 3 are in Pre-alert and 9 are in Alert. With 'Exception' status there will be four: Llobregat reservoirs (noted as unitat 10 on the map above), Ter reservoirs (unitat 12), Ter-Llobregat system (unitat 13) and the Fluvià-Muga aquifer (unitat 3). You can check if your municipality is among those affected by writing it into the search engine below.

Although in January the Catalan government calculated that there were at least two or three months left until a drought status change would take place, it has arrived just six weeks after the executive gave a first warning, with the hope at that time that more rain would arrive, especially during the spring. However, the current long-range weather models do not predict any major changes, and although, in the last few days, storm Juliette has left some showers, they have not been at all abundant. Rains would need to be widespread and constant throughout the territory, and although the wettest time of the year is still ahead, short or medium term relief is regarded as unlikely.

What are the new drought restrictions in Catalonia?

As for the measures that now come into force, the most prominent is a reduction in the average water allocation per inhabitant per day. If in the Alert scenario it was 250 litres per inhabitant per day, under Exception status it falls to 230 litres. The Catalan Water Agency explained to that this amount of 230 litres is an average that includes all municipal services, not just household consumption. In this regard, according to the entity's data for 2021, the average consumption is 117 litres per inhabitant per day in Catalonia, although there are many differences between regions: the highest consumption is in the Vall d'Aran, in the Pyrenees, where it reaches the 400 litre mark, and the least, in Terra Alta, in southern Catalonia, where it is below 100. In Barcelona city, the current average consumption is 152 litres per person per day. Given these figures, the tightening of restrictions should not affect the average consumption of ordinary residents when showering, washing dishes or using washing machines, but any municipalities with high consumption will have to take action to limit some uses.

Thus, measures to be taken include the reduction by 40% of the allocation for agricultural irrigation or for part of the flows intended for agricultural irrigation to be replaced by regenerated water. The use of water for watering public or private gardens and green areas will be prohibited, with the exception of 'survival watering' of trees or plants. That is, carried out drop by drop or with a watering can. It is forbidden to clean streets, sewers, pavements, facades or buildings with drinking water. Fresh water swimming pools that have recirculation systems can only be partially refilled, using the minimum amounts to guarantee sanitary quality.

For the moment, then, urban apartment dwellers without gardens may not be asked to take any special action. However, everyone can help to conserve water: basic measure include having shorter showers and avoiding baths; taking advantage of the cold water that comes out of the shower first by collecting it in a bucket for such uses as watering plants; not leaving the tap running when washing hands or dishes but putting the plug in; and not using your toilet as a waste paper bin - but rather putting non-soiled items such as tissues in a waste basket. And if a tap drips or leaks - fix it!  

Town councils, responsible for controlling the limits

As well as the Exception status and the new calls to reduce water use by the Catalan government, the emergency measures decree will also protect reservoirs, speed up the taking of action, and deter and penalize possible breaches of the restrictions. It will be the town councils that have to guarantee that the overall calculation of the municipality falls within the limits.

Meanwhile, in central Catalonia, an increased volume of water will pass from the Sau reservoir to that of Susqueda, in a way that seems counter-logical: Sau is in a critical state, at 15% of its capacity, while Susqueda is at 36.6%, but, according to minister Teresa Jordà, this transfer will ensure that "not a drop of water is lost, and will prevent it from becoming unusable in terms of sanitary quality". Finally, the ACA will triple its assistance in terms of water transport via tanker trucks.